How Artists Bring Value to UX Research

A water colour painter, an illustrator, musician, sculptor, potter. All artists. Not necessarily the profession or skill sets you’d think apply to UX research. They are however, far more relevant than you might think. Even in the world of Artificial Intelligence, computer and data scientists are and have been, including artists at the very start of their projects. And they’ve proven to show results. Why?

Artists always think in terms of the human. Musicians write songs that are about being human. A painter creates their art from a human perspective. Always. A poet writes prose that explores the depth of humanity and often, our human relationship with the world around us. Sculptors also explore our humanity. In everything they do, artists explore the meaning of being human.

They are keen observers of our societies, cultures and nature. They see what many others may not see. Their creations can elicit deep emotions from within us. From a song that transports you back to another time and place, a painting that gives your mind a moment of solace every time you look at it. The potter who makes a mug that is your favourite to curl up on the couch with on a cold winter’s day and read a book. They give us human moments. Sometimes intimately personal, sometimes shared. A musician can bring an audience to tears and frenetic energy. A moment we remember for the rest of our lives.

Any digital product is a replication. It is inherently transient. It only exists when the phone or tablet is turned on, when we are using that app, playing that game. Digital products are ephemeral and forevor fleeting. How we relate to them when we use them is key to coming back to them. This is the exquisite moment of angst for a UX designer. The experience while using an app, but also creating the experience that will being that human back to the app.

This is where artists can play their role. They do not feel or see the boundaries, the context or the affordances that must be considered. First, the see the human and then they play. Artists experiment and explore. UX designers may as well, but within the strictures of design, just as an information architect must work within their strictures.

When well considered in the digital product development process, or even later on when it is time to re-design or evolve the product, artists can help a product team to play a little, to be creative and find new approaches and ideas. The engineers can find value as much as a DevOps team can. Designers, in their rigour, can explore with an artist. 

This doesn’t mean setting an artists loose in a meeting room with canvass and paint or playing an electric guitar at full blast in the lunch room hoping to drive inspiration. Including an artist in the UX research phase or design phase must be well considered and structured. Most artists have a process to their work. Once they’ve evolved over time that fits how they work and what draws out their expression in whatever format they work in. These have to be clearly understood beforehand. And incorporated into the process.

UX research is a system. A way of thinking. Art is as well, but one where the feedback loops, stock and information flows are constantly evolving. The two don’t have to perfectly align, but they do need to complement one another. This takes a skilled UX researcher, one studied in cultural anthropology or sociology or with many years of UX research, to bring together effectively.

Properly done, implemented and understood, artists can bring immense value to digital products and services.

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